Appeals court: Conn. inmates don't have a right to pornography

The court upheld a 2012 CT DOC policy banning it from prisons with the stated goal of eliminating a hostile work environment


Associated Press
By Pat Eaton-Robb

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court has ruled that Connecticut prison inmates do not have a right to possess or view pornography in prison.

The ruling Thursday from a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2012 policy from the state Department of Correction banning porn from prisons with the stated goal of eliminating a hostile work environment for guards.

Judge Joseph Bianco, writing for the court, said the state ban "is reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives — namely, promoting a non-hostile work environment for DOC staff, enhancing the safety and security of DOC facilities, and facilitating the rehabilitation of sex offender inmates — and passes constitutional muster."

The state argued that inmates would use the pornography to pleasure themselves, often in front of female correction officers. The ban on pornography was introduced in 2011 and phased in over a year. It made exceptions for scientific and artistic materials. 

During 2012, correctional staff issued 494 public indecency tickets to inmates, according to the ruling. That number dropped to 79 in 2018, after the ban was instituted, Bianco wrote. 

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong called the court's decision an important win for safe working conditions in the prisons.

"Sexually explicit images are not allowed in any state workplace, and the prohibition against pornography was a lawful measure to protect the safety and rights of inmates and workers alike," he said in a statement.

Attorney Joseph Scully, whose firm was appointed on a pro bono basis to represent the inmates, declined to comment Friday.

He had agued before the court that inmates have a First Amendment right to pornography, which he argued was not properly weighed against the interests asserted by the state. 

But Bianco said there was evidence at trial that the pornography ban not only helped maintain a safe working environment for guards, but also helped keep the material away from convicted sex offenders, helping in their rehabilitation. 

The case was originally brought by former death row inmate Richard Reynolds, who is serving a life sentence for the killing of a Waterbury police officer in 1992. He complained that he had never been accused of any sexual wrongdoing by guards but was forced to throw away about 60 magazines and 150 photographs. He said was later disciplined for keeping a lingerie catalog in his cell.

His complaint was later merged with those of six other inmates who challenged the policy. 

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